Written in partnership with Krista Lane
I vividly remember the first time I was told that the People Teams’ skills are real and valuable:
In a 1:1 with my manager, I complained that I didn’t feel like the engineers I scheduled interviews for were respecting my work. She validated my feelings, and then told me:
“You wouldn’t sit down at an engineer’s computer and start typing in their terminal window. And similarly, they shouldn’t sit down at yours and start typing in your ATS (Applicant Tracking System) window. You are each doing your work, using your unique skills.”
This was a lightbulb moment for me – I hadn’t thought of my work as skilled. But it is! Being a recruiting coordinator, university recruiter, DEI lead, and HR manager (and all of my roles in between) requires a combination of skills that I acquired, improved, and executed. Same goes for all the roles on People Teams – from office management to benefits administration.
We often overlook the skills required to be on a People Team. “Soft Skills,” we call them – as if they are diametrically opposed to “Hard Skills,” which are the “real” ones. My feminist education (as well as stories about how other roles have evolved) tells me that this is because work that relies heavily on emotional labor and emotional intelligence is qualified as “women’s work” and subsequently underpaid (there’s data!) and deprioritized.
Despite oppressive systems telling us otherwise, People Teams are full of valuable skills that should be leveraged across organizations. It’s time to recognize your People Team for the brilliance we bring to your organization, because the skills you undervalue on your People Team are often highly valued elsewhere in your organization.
People Teams’ work is incredibly user focused. Workplace team members are watching how their users (all of us!) interact with the space they designed, and make adjustments based on what they see. Recruiters are considering the needs of their users – their candidates and their hiring teams – and build solutions into their processes. The HR team creates policies while considering simultaneously how they will impact individuals, groups, and the business.
Prioritizing users is essential in many parts of organizations, but for the People Team, it’s personal! Our users are all around us, all the time. We’re the sales team that tries to convince you the process will work great, and we’re the customer support team that gets all the feedback when the user experience isn’t great. Anticipating our users’ needs, and responding to them when we get it wrong, is built into every part of our job description. We don’t always have the luxury of A/B testing, though…
The People Team’s budget for tools and resources is often limited (see above re: how “soft skills” are devalued), which is why we became experts at thinking creatively to get what we need.
People Analysts typically do not have a significant budget, but they do need specific tools to be able to do their job well. This means innovating ways to get their tools at a discounted price, or convincing another team to fund or build the tools and letting the People Analytics Team use them.
Recruiters begin negotiations to close their candidates on their first call: they learn the candidates’ motivations and priorities and use them to create a consistent narrative throughline. By the time they are ready to give the candidate an offer, recruiters know exactly what will be compelling for the candidate and how to make it work for the company without just throwing money at the situation.
These frugal techniques are overlooked because they don’t obviously generate revenue. But saving money on software and securing the best talent are both directly tied to company success. Startups call it ‘scrappiness’ or ‘running lean’ but no matter the budget, People Teams will use it wisely.
Interpret data – and act on it
Data-informed decision-making is used across organizations – not just in the product teams! Is “full-cycle data analysis” a thing? If so, that’s what People Teams do. We collect the data, interpret the data, and then use the data to effect changes.
Recruiters analyze their metrics to determine how their pipeline is progressing and when they are likely to fill a role. They also evaluate whether interviews are effectively measuring the skillsets we’re looking for – and they adjust interview order or the interview itself as needed.
The workplace and facilities team is constantly analyzing occupancy and building utilization data to improve the organization. They track how the space is being used and how it could be optimized. Many teams also track energy use which they compare to their sustainability goals.
Almost everyone on the People Team will rely on engagement and sentiment surveys to address employee needs and measure progress.
The data used across your company may be different, but the skills used to interpret it are consistently needed in every department.
Because the People Team’s users are everyone, we need to be able to communicate with everyone. In a lot of ways, this skillset is like speaking multiple languages – because Engineers receive information differently than Sales which is also different from Legal. This requires the ability to code-switch based on their audience.
How many times (especially in the United States) have you found yourself reading information from your health insurance and thinking, “WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?” Benefits Teams translate that and other complex and deeply personal topics for their users – from health insurance nuances to 401K details – adjusting their style based on their audience’s familiarity with the topic.
Recruiters are prepared to explain their company’s mission through any lens that a given candidate will best understand. When talking to an engineer, they walk through the technical aspects of the company. And immediately after that, they speak to a customer service director who wants to understand the product’s impact on its users – and the pitfalls that come with it. Switching between these perspectives is key to connecting with each candidate.
Workplace Teams find themselves proactively advocating for new tools and processes before the organization sees the benefits their solution offers. This change management facilitation requires effective communication and trust. They help their users notice a problem that they hadn’t yet realized they have, and then present the solution.
So much of the People Team’s work is solving puzzles. This isn’t just reacting to problems (though we are busy with that as well). There is so much strategy that goes into our problem solving, especially when it’s done proactively.
HR Business Partners and Finance Partners tackle the complex riddle that is headcount planning. They find the balance between current and future budgets, allow for promotions, factor in attrition, and make backup plans on backup plans for the various unknowns.
Recruiting Coordinators and Executive Assistants can work magic with absolutely impossible schedules – finding meeting times that work for groups of 20+ people and a conference room to host it. This means they have to identify what meetings can be rescheduled in order to accommodate the large meeting and know how to politely communicate the request so that the change doesn’t feel burdensome.
And we can’t forget the power puzzlers who plan where teams sit within a large office. The Workplace Generalists responsible for this space organization are weighing many factors at once, from individual preferences (e.g. engineers liking quiet workspaces) to business needs (e.g. recruiters need to be near the front door to greet candidates quickly). They balance these with the work environment they want to create: something collaborative and community building, or something that allows for heads-down work – or better yet, the sweet spot in the middle of those.
If you missed the great labor boomerang of 2020-2021, many companies laid off their People teams in 2020, only to desperately clamor for their talents just a year later. That cost companies way more than they saved, both in layoffs and lost trust– with the benefit of hindsight, it’s worth avoiding a repeat performance!
Your People Teams’ skillsets could be leveraged across your organization. AND they are also useful exactly where they are now – on your People Team. These skills ensure your organization is supported so other departments can do their best work. But, if your company is in a hiring freeze or closing physical offices and you’re wondering if you need to lay off your People Team – remember all of their transferable skills that your business can use across many other departments. (And avoid the inevitable boomerang a year later!)
PS – if you didn’t know that your People Team did half of what is listed here, you’re not alone! Use this as an opportunity to grab a coffee with someone on your People Team to learn more about what happens behind the scenes to keep your company running smoothly.
Learn more about our Author: AnnE Diemer (she/her/hers) is an HR Consultant who prioritizes the human in HR. With eight years of recruiting, DEI, and HR generalist experience across tech startups and non-profits, AnnE is dedicated to supporting organizations who are ready to take a people-centered approach to HR. At Stripe, AnnE led initiatives focused on improving candidate experience, diversifying application pipelines, building university recruiting programs, and developing leaders within the company’s employee resource groups. In 2020, she brought these skills to political non-profits where she designed programs that improved equity in hiring, promoted self-care and sustainable work, led internship programs, designed performance reviews, and facilitated connections amongst staff as they worked remotely for the first time. In her consulting practice, aedHR, AnnE approaches her work through a lens that holds contradictions: How do we build great workplaces while also questioning capitalist systems? How can we work efficiently and move quickly while also prioritizing ourselves and each other as humans? When she’s not trying to answer these difficult questions, you can find her crocheting or riding her new bike around Washington, DC.
*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.